My Two Takes on Houston and the Subpoenas

If you have any number of conservative Christian facebook friends then your newsfeed has probably blown up concerning the subpoenas of the Houston pastors. For the rest of you let me briefly fill you in. Several months ago Houston passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Among other requirements, this ordinance would require public bathrooms to be open to those who identify with that particular gender. A male who identifies as a woman can use the women bathroom. This started a protest by Houston citizens, led by many area pastors. They gathered a petition to put the ordinance to a city vote. The city attorney threw out the petition stating that many of the signatures are invalid. The city was sued to allow the vote. As part of the lawsuit five Houston pastors were subpoenaed for their sermons and for any correspondence related to this issue. This description is not completely nuanced, and leaves out important details, but it is the best I can in a brief manner.

I have two takes on this situation. One is based on my academic expertise and one is just based on my observation as an educated citizen. First, my observation as a citizen. I am not a lawyer so there are likely legal issues I do not understand, but it is hard for me to see why these sermons and communications are relevant. If the Mayor of Houston was suing a pastor for slander then clearly his or her sermons would be fair game. But in this case it seems that the major question, the research question from my perspective, is whether the signatures are valid. If they are then we should have a vote. If they are not then the Houston city attorney is in the right.

Some individuals may argue that the signatures may be improperly collected since pastors should not get involved in politics from the pulpit. Let me put that issue off to the side for now, because ultimately it is unimportant. Let us assume the worst case scenario in that the pastors told their congregations that it was God’s will for them to sign the petition. So what? If the people signing the petition were registered voters from Houston then it really does not matter why they signed the petition. They signed it of their own free will and Houston should have a referendum on the ordinance.

This leads me to suspect that the subpoenas are not about this particular lawsuit but serve a larger purpose of stigmatizing the pastors. The subpoenas seem unlikely to produce evidence relevant to this case, but may be passed on to IRS agents to challenge the tax status of the churches. We have seen evidence of information sharing from the IRS to progressive activists before and it is not hard to imagine this sharing going in the other direction. It may be the case that these churches should be examined for possible non-profit status issues. But I would feel better having the IRS collecting the needed information and going through the proper channels than the obtaining of the information through the pretense of evidence gathering in a lawsuit.

But once again I am not a lawyer and perhaps a lawyer will respond with an answer that makes sense. I am a sociologist studying anti-Christian attitudes in our society. This brings me to my take that I am qualified to talk about – whether this legal strategy is tied to Christianophobia. There are reasons to believe that this attempt to obtain sermons and other information is part of a larger strategy to stigmatize Christians. Thus, I do not discount the possibility that Christianophobia plays some role in these actions.

However, it is work of another book I wrote a couple of years ago which I think is more relevant. That book is named What Motivates Cultural Progressives. In that book, I documented that cultural progressive activists tend to consider their political opponents to be irrational, religious individuals trying to move our culture backwards. They have little respect for their political opponents. They often express concerns about the ability of religious individuals to have influence on our political system. With this sort of mindset, it is easy to perceive a motivation from Houston officials, if they are cultural progressive activists, to gather sermons and other material in an effort to “expose” the irrationality and intolerance of their political opponents. Whether the documents are relevant to the current court case may be less important to these officials than stopping the efforts of those who would take our culture backwards.

My suggestion is that it is not as much a fear of Christians as it is the fear of the socially conservative culture linked to Christians driving these subpoenas. The lack of respect cultural progressive activists have for their political opponents allow them to rationalize using the legal system to “dig up dirt” on them. In my sample, I found several individuals who did not believe that religious individuals had the right to fully participate in our political progress. A good number of respondents also articulated a belief that religious individuals are brainwashed and cultural conservative political movements have developed due to the manipulation of ignorant Christians by evil leaders. Thus the political claims in this movement are not legitimate claims by people seeking to serve their own social and material interests, but are the result of manipulation whereby they have been persuaded to vote against their own economic and social interest. When we recognize that many cultural progressive activists do not see cultural conservatives as legitimate political players in our governmental system, then the overreaching request make a great deal of sense.

I am glad I waited a day or two before submitting this blog as new information indicates that the Houston mayor is backing away from some of the requests. Since she is a lesbian who is an activist on sexuality issues, it clearly would look political bad to have her requesting sermons from conservative preachers. Indeed this does look like an incredible political faux pas, one that an experience politician would not make unless blinded by previous stereotypes of her political opponents. The type of stereotypes I discovered in my cultural progressive activists research helps explain such a mistake.

Real Cultural Diversity

Since one of my areas of specialization is race/ethnicity, an important issue I address in my teaching is multiculturalism. Discussing multiculturalism is a good fit for some of the racialized issues that come up in my classes, but almost all teachers of sociology introduce the ideas of multiculturalism in their courses. Multiculturalism is a core principle in much of modern sociology. My guess is that this is not a phenomenon limited to the United States but that sociology, and other social science/humanity professors all over the world place a fairly high priority in introducing multiculturalism to college students. One would expect that highly educated individuals throughout modern societies would be at least somewhat versed in their understanding of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is theorized to be valuable in helping us appreciate cultural diversity. It is linked to notions of tolerance since we cannot appreciate and work to eliminate an alien culture at the exact same time. I assume that the organizers of the 2014 Asian Games are knowledgeable of multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity. Indeed the motto of those games was “Diversity Shines Here”. Yet, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think diversity means what they think it means. The Qatari women’s basketball team was commanded to take off their white headscarves before play. They refused and walked off the court rather than violate their expressions of Islam. The officials at the games did not relent in their request. Evidently, diversity is valuable as long as that diversity conforms to the cultural mandates of those officials.

I am not defending white headscarves out of an admiration of this custom. This is a custom that has been criticized as sexist and demeaning to women. I am partial to that criticism. But I also recognize that my criticism of the headscarf is shaped to some degree by the cultural assumptions that have developed in the United States. While I am free to offer my own criticism of the use of the headscarf, it is arrogant to ignore the cultural context of that objection. While I, as an American, perceive the scarf as a manifestation of the exploitation of women in an Islamic context, Muslims may envision the sexualization of women in American media as an example of exploitation of women in an American context. I consider myself to be right but the women of Qatari should be perfectly free to disagree with me and choose to wear their headscarf. As long as they are not being forced to wear the scarf, my objections should not be used to compel them to ditch the scarf.

My defense of the Qatari women is also not motivated by some great love for Islam. I am a Christian. On issues of theology, I disagree with the Muslim. This does not mean that I hate Muslims, but I believe them to be wrong as many of them believe me to be wrong. Even though I disagree with them, I respect their right to practice their religion as they see fit as long as they are not directly harming someone else. I am free to feel that it is silly for the Qatari women to play with scarves. But it is still their right to do so if it is their way of expressing their religion. They are not harming me. If I do not want to see it, I can choose to attend a different event.

Multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity are supposed to be conceptual ways we learn how to respect one another. In theory these concepts are not about whether we agree with those in our out-groups but rather our willingness to understand them in the context of the culture of others. Therefore, despite my theological and cultural disagreements with the Qatari women, I should attempt to understand why they may engage in a practice that I may not like. At the very least, I should not attempt to officially impose my cultural norms on them if they want to participate in an athletic contest. It seems to me that many people like to talk a good game when it comes to issues of tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism. However, when it comes to a time when the rubber must meet the road and they are dealing with a group with whom they strongly disagree, then they are not willing to extend the same level of kindness and openness they want for themselves.

In my book, Compromising Scholarship, I discussed the idea of tolerance – a critical component of multiculturalism. In my conceptualization of tolerance, we do not test this quality unless it is with a group where our disagreement is quite dramatic. The tolerance of a Baptist is untested if we are looking at his/her acceptance of a Methodist. It may be a little more tested if asking about a Catholic and definitely is tested if asked about an atheist. Tolerating someone we basically agree with does not tell us much. So if we are going to test tolerance, we have to find out what a person believes and then we can see how willing he or she is to tolerate those who’s beliefs are dramatically different. Tolerance of those who have dramatically different cultural and epistemological ideals is essential in a society where diversity and multiculturalism are core values.

However, the way we often talk about tolerance is the acceptance of certain cultural values or practices. For example, authoritarian attitudes can be conceptualized as the opposite of the tolerance needed for a successful multicultural society. Authoritarian attitudes denote a desire to use official sanctions to inhibit behaviors and attitudes deemed to be deviant. Yet, the way scales of right-wing authoritarianism are set up tests the willingness of respondents to accept atheists, homosexuals and feminists. One of my criticisms of the right-wing authoritarian scale is that it really a test for accepting the type of groups political and social conservatives are more likely to reject. Consequently, it does not test the ability of progressives to accept their out-groups. As long as we conceptualize tolerance as the acceptance of progressive groups or ideologies, we will not be able to measure tolerance and thus be unable to see if we have the attitudes that make a multicultural society possible.

Yet, there are groups we should reject and do not have to accommodate. It is reasonable that a group like the KKK does not have a place even in a multicultural society. The core goal of the group is the oppression of minority racial groups. It is a goal clearly incompatible with the ideals of a multicultural society. But the temptation is to easily envision those who are our out-groups as unacceptable when that is indeed not the case. In this situation, the officials at the Asian games put the Qatari women in the same place as the KKK as it concerns their scarf. The scarf was conceptualized as unacceptable in a setting that emphasizes “diversity.” Despite my own personal disagreements with the use of the headscarf, I have to ask why the officials accepted such an interpretation. The scarf did not hurt anyone but possibly the Qatari women in the game, and it allowed them to express their religion. It does not oppress others but merely helps the women set boundaries for their cultural behaviors. This is not a core issue that should have made those women’s cultural practices unacceptable in a multicultural society.

There is an argument that the scarves are a symbol of sexism and so should not be allowed in a multinational event. It has become more common for accusations of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. to be used to stigmatize out-groups. The challenge of those who want a legitimate multicultural society is to work to recognize when the use of accusations is due to a real concern of core values that eliminate the participation of others in our society or if those accusations are used in a McCarthy-like manner to make those we disagree with invisible. Officials of the Asian Games made a decision that made the religious expressions of the Qatari women invisible. It was an unnecessary decision since these women were not requiring other countries to wear scarves. They were not exhibiting core values incompatible with a multicultural society. They just wanted their piece of that society to be infused with their own cultural values. The fact that I find elements of their cultural expressions sexist does not give me the right to take overt measures to make their culture invisible. My interpretation does not rule the day for those in other cultures. Neither should the interpretation of the official of the Asian Games be the last word.

In my experience, usually what is worth having is very difficult to obtain. I believe that a true multicultural society is worth having. It is definitely going to be difficult to obtain. To obtain it, we will have to learn to deal with our own judgmental attitudes and propensity to stigmatize those with whom we disagree. This works against our own natural impulses, which is to defend our own ideas and disregard the perspectives of others. In my conceptualization of a multicultural society, there are passionate disagreements between different groups about our cultural, religious, and social values. But we learn to allow those with contrasting ideas to live out those cultural values as long as they are not attempting to overtly eliminate other groups in society. Some social groups will disappear over time as people move away from those groups. Discussion and debate that may facilitate such movement is fine since freedom of speech is one of our country’s conceptual treasures. But it is wrong to attempt to officially eliminate an out-group for ideological heresy. That is my dream of what a multicultural society would look like. Unfortunately, actions like those of the officials at the Asian Games make such a dream less, instead of more, likely to take place.

DeJure and DeFacto Religious Discrimination

One of the advantages of blog writing is that at times I can follow up on past research. It becomes possible to address potential criticisms of my work without having to go through the entire process necessary for a peer review article. This is particularly useful when answering the potential issue does not require all of the statistical analysis and literature review normally expected for a research article.

The research in question comes from my book Compromising Scholarship. In this case, I am not responding to a direct attack on the findings of that book but rather an article that provides arguments that can be used to challenge those results. The basic finding of my book is that academics are willing to discriminate against religious and political conservatives when it comes to hiring those individuals for academic positions. Indeed, I found the willingness of academics to discriminate against religious conservatives to be significantly higher than their willingness to discriminate against political conservatives. I have pointed out in a previous blog, that the implication of this work is that religious discrimination is acceptable in academia as long as the “right” group faces discrimination.

Recently a Huffpo article seem to reinforce these problems. Professor Conn argues that Christian colleges should not be accredited because they do not engage in an open search for truth. He argues that there is not sufficient skepticism due to their religious foundations. On that point, I would challenge Dr. Conn, given the political nature of the protest to Regnerus’s findings, to provide evidence that traditional college and universities are open to all potential research answers. It seems that most nonreligious colleges and universities are as adverse to research with politically incorrect findings as Christian colleges are to findings that violate their theistic assumptions of reality. Conn uses as part of his argument the fact that religious schools have theological requirements for hiring. He finishes the article with stating that if faculty are fired for failing a “theological/ideological litmus tests” then they should not be able to call themselves a college or university.

This offers a potential challenge to my previous findings. Perhaps the tendency to be willing to discriminate against conservative Protestants is matched by the willingness of professors at Christian colleges to discriminate against non-Christians. Many of these Christian colleges have policies that allow them to religiously discriminate. Indeed one may argue that because of the overt nature of such policies that non-Christians face more occupational discrimination than Christians within academia. Such a charge is mitigated a bit by the fact that the number of Christian colleges and universities are relatively small in number, but it is worth considering if discrimination is potentially more prominent among Christians on religious campuses than non-Christians on secular campuses.

Conn’s argument is about the potential firing of non-Christian professors on Christian campuses. While the data from my book cannot test the willingness of academics to fire those with what they see as “unacceptable” ideologies, I can see the willingness of academics to hire those individuals. It is not unrealistic to assume that people we are less willing to hire would also be individuals that we are more willing to fire. In my research I asked academics whether they would be more or less willing to hire someone if they found out certain information about that person. I asked them to rate on a 1 to 7 whether knowing this information makes them more or less willing to hire them. Lower scores indicated less willingness to hire that individual. A 4 was scored if the information did not matter at all.

In my original finding the group that academics were less willing to hire was fundamentalists and evangelicals were the second most rejected group. As it is true in the actual academic culture, relatively few respondents worked on religious campuses. So my original findings consisted mostly of academics on non-religious campuses rejecting evangelicals and fundamentalists. Given Conn’s argument, I now question whether the rejection of fundamentalists and evangelicals by academics on non-religious campuses is less than the rejection of atheists on Christian campuses, who I would envision as the more extreme out-group to Christians. If part of the reason why Christian colleges should be not be accredited is because they have ideological barriers, then it should be the case that professors on non-religious campuses are more “fair-minded” in their response to religious out-groups.

When I looked at my results, I found that academics at religious schools were a little less likely to hire someone if they found out that person was an atheist (m = 3.684 on the 1 to 7 scale). But academics at non-religious schools were even more hesitant to hire fundamentalists (m = 3.09) and evangelicals (m = 3.352). Both means are statistically different from the atheist score at p < .0001 for fundamentalists and p < .0002 for evangelicals. Scholars at non-religious schools are more much more likely to enforce an ideological litmus test against conservative Protestants than scholars at religious schools are against atheists applying for work at their institutions. Of course it is possible that the scholars on religious campuses are not representative of the administrators enforcing religious barriers to new applicants. However, it is quite likely that scholars at religious schools understand the institutional hiring constraints and would incorporate those restraints into their answers. Conn contended that religious schools should not be accredited because they reject nonreligious scholars. My research suggests that if he is right then there are a lot of nonreligious schools that should lose their accreditation as well.

My original calculations explored all religious schools, which are the type of schools that Conn argues should lose their accreditation. However, restrictive ideology may be more of a factor at Protestant colleges and universities. To test for this possibility, I looked at the willingness of academics to hire atheists at only Protestant campuses and compared it to scholars at non-religious campuses. Scholars at Protestant campuses were less willing to hire atheists than scholars at religious campuses in general (m = 3.327). This score did not vary to a statistically significant degree than the scores given to fundamentalists and evangelicals candidates from the professors at nonreligious schools. While the score for evangelicals from scholars at nonreligious schools does not greatly differ from the atheists score, the score for atheists does seem quite a bit lower. My sample only included 55 scholars who worked at Protestant campuses and this number of respondents does not offer enough statistical power for me to have confidence in the null hypothesis comparing scholars from nonreligious schools accepting fundamentalists and scholars from Protestant schools accepting atheists.

When race/ethnicity scholars teach about racial segregation, we often talk about de facto and de jure segregation. There was segregation established by the laws of the country and that which is accomplished by the informal norms of the society. In the same manner we can talk about religious schools that may have policies that favor those of similar theological beliefs (de jure) and nonreligious schools without such official policies but have informal norms and values that act as religious restrictions (de facto). My little experiment indicates that informal norms are just as powerful, and perhaps even more powerful, than institutional rules as it concerns the establishment of ideological boundaries.

The distinctions of de jure and de facto segregation have historically been important because majority group individuals are not very receptive to dealing with racism unless they can be shown explicit rules that can be documented as racist. I suspect that many scholars contend that prejudice against conservative Protestants does not have real influence if it does not result in explicit rules that work to the disadvantage of those Protestants. But such rules are not necessary for religious prejudice to have an effect on the scholars who do not have “acceptable” religious beliefs. Since very few scholars struggle with being racist, it is easy for them to see how racial prejudice can have an effect on people of color even if such prejudice does not result in overly racist rules or laws. Yet those same scholars may have blinders to the religious biases that play themselves out even at academic institutions that pledge religious neutrality.

If we are going to use openness to accepting those with distinctive ideas from ourselves to assess accreditation, then we cannot merely eliminate religious colleges and universities with that standard. We cannot go by just the stated creeds of religious colleges and universities but also must look at the willingness of other colleges to exclude even when such exclusion is not in their official statements. Just like we cannot rely on altering de jure laws to address racial segregation, we would also have to find ways to deal with de facto ways in which academics also exclude ideological out-groups. As it concerns racial issues, measures of affirmative action not relying on documentation of overt efforts at racial discrimination have been used to address such issues. Such measures address racial inequality with timetables and goals along with requiring documentation that criteria set for jobs or educational institutions do not have a racial disparate impact. I am not certain what type of “affirmative action” type of measures we can use in an academic setting, but without such a measure, any talk about punishing Christian colleges for ideological closed-mindedness is premature.

Yale Makes: The Calhoun Happiness Project Launches its First Little Platoon

Calhoun Happiness Project member, Cameron Yick ’2017, has launched a new student group called Yale Makes. For two hours every Saturday morning, Yale students (and professors!) are invited to Yale’s Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID) to design graphics, make art out of wood, or develop computer animation.


Study Break in Calhoun College for Yale Makes

Yale Makes builds off Mihalyi Csiksgentmihalyi’s ideas of flow, Bernard DeKoven’s ideas of deep fun, and the Little Platoons idea we discussed at the Yale Happiness Seminar in June. Simply bringing a group of people together to brainstorm and create something is fun, promotes our own happiness and that of others, and develops group bonds. In Yale’s competitive culture, this group stands out as having no winners. In fact, failing is welcome. The goals are cooperation, fun, creativity, and friendship. Neither experience nor a specific idea is required. I already have lined up two local artists to come do beginner’s workshops—apparently the experts are jumping at the chance to do art and design with newbees with unconventional styles. When I was a student at Yale, I thought I wasn’t talented enough to do art or design here. But now I have a second chance—my inexperience is my talent. Just imagine what we can do in a Little Platoon dedicated to design, creativity, and fun! Here is how Cameron describes Yale Makes: Robotic ducks. Tactile poetry. Calm manatees. Stylish doorstops. These are just a few of the ideas that Yale Students have talked about developing in their free time. Yale Makes is a place where playful projects can be taken seriously. Like many other skills, design isn’t something that you get better at just from reading books. You have to design and be yale_logoexposed to new ideas on a regular basis to develop a sense of how to balance aesthetics and function. It’s much easier to be motivated when you commit to doing something weekly, and are doing it with other people. Yale Makes is a weekly opportunity to brainstorm and work with other people on projects for the fun of it. We’ll also provide a learning framework for those who would like to learn about the foundational principles of design across all disciplines. Currently, Yale Makes is slated to be meeting from 10 AM-12 PM in the CEID on Saturdays. Below are a few of the skillsets that Yale Makers have strong interest and/or experience with. Graphic- Posters – Layout – Signs – Logos – Color Theory – Cartooning – Typography – Drawing/Painting Physical- Woodwork – DIY/Hacking – Sculpture – Pottery – Textiles/Clothing – Upcycling – Machining Technical- Websites- Apps (Mobile/Web) – Blogs – Animation – UI/UX – 3D Modeling and Printing – Lasercutting All members of the Yale community are welcome. If you are not a member of the Yale community but want to find out more, please let us know. For more information, contact either Margarita Mooney or Cameron Yick (our emails are listed in the Yale directory). Check back for cool photos of our fun design projects! And check out Yale Makes online!

Marti and Ganiel’s The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity

The Emerging Church Movement (ECM) is making a big splash in American Christianity, and so the release of The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel (Oxford Press, 2014) is noteworthy.

This book tackles the difficult task of defining the ECM. Most definitions of religious groups focus on organizational membership, such as denominations, or religious identity, such as being charismatic. The ECM doesn’t fit well with either of these. Marti and Ganiel describe it as a social movement guided by various themes, including being anti-institutional, ecumenical, using young leaders, being experimental and creative, and avoiding being traditionally church-y. They label it as a religious orientation aimed toward the practice of deconstruction (p. 6). In one sentence they write: “The ECM is a creative, entrepreneurial religious movement that strives to achieve social legitimacy and spiritual vitality by actively disassociating from its roots in conservative, evangelical Christianity. (p. ix)”

On the upside, this is about the clearest definition I’ve seen of ECM. On the downside, I’m still not exactly sure what it is. Certainly most Christian groups are not part of the ECM, some clearly are, but there’s a continuum of churches between them. As far as I can tell, this reflects nature of ECM, not any problems with the definition, per se. In several places, Marti and Ganiel describe facets of ECM group organization as “messy,” and to them I would add the simple identification of ECM.

The authors used the gamut of qualitative research methods—participant observation, interviewing, focus groups, and textual analysis, to convey both the experience and organization of ECM. Topics include the nature of ECM congregations, the focus on individual deconstruction, the role of dialogue, and the role (or lack thereof) of missions. They conclude that the significance of ECM, from a sociological perspective, is that it reflects the broader societal trend toward “religious individualization” (p. 195).

The book gave me not only a better understanding of the beliefs and practices found in the ECM, but also a greater appreciation of the sophisticated, responsive nature of the religious market in the United States. The 1990s saw a rise of the religious “nones”, which is well documented. Along with them were many Christians who didn’t want to leave the faith altogether but wanted a less traditional, more individual-focused group experience of it. Up pops ECM, catering to these needs, and providing yet another outlet for religious expression. It’s like a new store opening up at the mall, and you don’t appreciate the pent-up demand for it until you see it packed with customers.

The ECM narrative emphasizes revitalizing spirituality. I would bump it up one level of analysis and say that the driver of spiritual vitality is not ESM itself but rather the religious marketplace that produces movements such as the ESM. This thoughtful and well-written book describes and analyzes this recent, perhaps important offering of this market.